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Historical Trends and Conventional Wisdom Win Mid Term Elections

For all the hype, viewers of the election results could have gone to bed early because what happened pretty much followed predictions – the party out of power – in this case the Democrats – gained seats. In races over the last 100 years, the party out of power gains 30 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate during the midterms. In this case, the Democrats have won 25 to 35 seats in the House (there are still some close elections yet to be decided), which gives them a slim majority.

This election wasn’t as bad for the party in power as some recent midterm elections. Clinton lost 54 house seats and 8 senate seats in 1994. Obama lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats in 2010.

The Senate was a victory for the Republicans, who have increased their majority by four, and could gain more seats if the slim margins they hold in some races hold up.

The split decision is a result of Trump’s strategy to focus on the Senate, where several weak Democratic seats in the Senate were in play. The effort paid off as several Democratic Senators lost, while some weak Republican senate seats were saved.

The Senate strategy also allows Trump to continue his campaign promise of appointing conservative judges to the federal court system. It will also ease the appointment of new cabinet members as several members of Trump’s cabinet are expected to resign soon.

The Democrats won the House after 8 years of being out of power. However, there is a question if Pelosi will return as the Speaker of the House position. As of late, she has acted confused in press conferences and there are some in her party who want a younger, face for the Democratic Party in the House.

While the election followed historical trends, the change in leadership in the House and the larger Republican majority in the Senate, mean a lot in terms of how the US will be run in the next 2 years.

Here are some of those changes

CONTROLLING THE HOUSE ISN’T CONTROLLING THE GOVERNMENT

When the Republicans won the House in 2010, they had great plans – end Obamacare, reduce spending, etc.

What the Republicans learned quickly, was that there was little they could do while the Democrats controlled the Senate and White House. They frequently found their legislation stalled in the Senate, while Obama used the split Congress to take executive action.

The other problem with controlling the House is that the leadership, must stop being a hindrance and take responsibility as part of the national leadership. Mundane legislation like raising the debt ceiling must be passed, even though the new leaders have complained about spending too much in the past.

Although Pelosi and Trump have had problems in the past, they will be forced in some cases to join forces. If Pelosi refuses to help Trump on occasion, Trump (like Obama) might very well take executive action.

TRUMP PREFERS CONTROLLING THE SENATE TO THE HOUSE

Trump made the appointment of conservative judges a major issue in the 2016 campaign. With the one vote margin, some of Trump’s appointments like Justice Kavanaugh were barely confirmed. With a bigger Senate majority, it should be easier to get more judicial nominations through the Senate in the next two years.

PREPARE FOR MORE, AND NASTIER, CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Now that they control the House and will chair the committees, the Democrats have promised investigations into the Trump Administration’s actions and Trump’s income taxes.

The problem is that this can cut both ways. While the House Democrats can investigate several Republicans, Senate Republicans and the Department of Justice can turn this around and carry out investigations into the Democratic leadership. Trump has already promised to do this in his post-election press conference.

One issue will be congressional subpoenas. It has become common for Democrats to ignore congressional subpoenas. We can expect this trend to continue as Democrats subpoena, and Republicans refuse to obey them. Will a Democratic Congress try to push this issue and try to arrest some officials – something the Republicans never did.

The House and Senate do have the authority to arrest someone they find in contempt. And, the Congress even has a jail in the Capitol. However, arresting political opponents is probably one of the quickest ways to start a civil war in the US.

EXPECT MORE EXECUTIVE ORDERS

With a divided Congress, we can expect more gridlock. In that case, we can be sure that Trump will rely more and more on executive orders. Although Trump will try to pass some legislation in the current “lame duck” session, we can expect Trump to govern by executive order like Obama in the last six years of his presidency.

Don’t be surprise to see executive orders on birthright citizenship and immigration in January.

DON’T EXPECT THE CONGRESS TO START IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST TRUMP

As much as some Democrats like the idea, many Democrats are warning that impeachment isn’t sensible and may very well prove to be a losing idea.

As was seen with the Clinton impeachment, it took votes away from the Republicans as voters wanted Congress to focus on solving problems, not engaging in politics.

Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Willie Geist said that Trump “would like nothing more” than an impeachment probe, because it would be: “the Kavanaugh situation multiplied times a thousand, which is Democratic overreach, and Donald Trump looks like the victim in the whole thing. He does not mind an impeachment investigation.”

Just as important, exit polling showed that 56% of voters do not want the Congress to impeach Trump. A majority of them also think the Muller investigation is political.

Democrats also know that the Republican Senate will not vote for conviction, so any effort spend on passing articles of impeachment will be futile in the long run.

THE RESULTS OF THE MID TERM ELECTIONS DON’T MEAN TRUMP WILL LOSE IN 2020

Clinton lost 54 house seats and 8 senate seats in 1994. Obama lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats in 2010. Yet, both presidents won reelection.

Americans like divided government, which explains why people who voted for a Republican senator, voted for a Democratic congressman and a Republican governor. That means voters who voted for a Democratic Congress may very well vote for Trump again.

It’s also important to remember that it was Trump’s ceaseless electioneering in the last few weeks that resulted in Republican wins in the Senate. In fact, Trump won 9 out of 11 seats that he personally campaigned for.

People who may not like his coarse style, still like him enough to vote for him.

DON’T EXPECT THE DEMOCRATS TO WIN THE SENATE IN 2020

A continued Republican Senate in 2020 and beyond is a strong possibility. Of the 21 Republican Senate seats up in 2020, only three of them are potential Democratic pickup opportunities – Colorado, Iowa, and Maine.

With the current Republican edge in the Senate, it means that the Democrats have little chance of taking total control of the government in 2020, even if they win the presidency and retain control of the House.

EXPECT SHAKEUPS IN THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Attorney General Sessions was only the first of many to be forced out of the Administration in the coming months.

Trump has been disappointed in many he originally picked for his administration but was unwilling to ask for their resignations since he only had a one vote margin in the US Senate. With a larger margin, he can push some presidential appointees to resign and put more of his people in the vacated places.

It will be interesting to see how much change will be made in the Department of Justice. The acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has been a critic of the range of Muller’s investigation, but as senior DoJ person, is now in charge of the investigation – something that has upset Democrats. In fact, former Attorney General Eric Holder said the fact that Rosenstein isn’t in charge of the Mueller investigation called the move “a red line.”

Ron Rosenstein’s position as number two in the DoJ is also in question since it came out that he may have been involved in secretly taping the president in order to get evidence that could be used in removing him from office. He will probably remain until the Muller investigation is over and a report has been submitted to the DoJ.

But, don’t expect the resignations to come solely from the DoJ. There are many who could be leaving Washington soon.

THE DEMOCRATS HAVE AN OLD BENCH FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN 2020

The Democrats had two attractive potential presidential candidates up for election this week – Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. However, both lost, which means the same, old faces will make up the Democratic presidential race.

IMMIGRATION IS A WINNING ISSUE FOR TRUMP

President Trump was widely criticized for raising the issue of immigration again in the closing days of the campaign. And while he received criticism from some Republicans, he had solid underlying points: The nation has to enforce its immigration laws, and Democrats are opposed to enforcing them. His tactic may have helped bring some of his 2016 voters who were undecided off the fence.

This will give Trump the public backing to push for immigration legislation – or lacking that, executive orders on birthright citizenship and immigration enforcement.

Don’t be surprised if Trump calls the Mexican caravan’s invasion of the southern border a national security issue and then uses Department of Defense money to build parts of the wall.

THE BLACK VOTING BLOCK MAY BE CRACKING

For the last half century, the Democratic Party has relied on blacks giving about 95% of their votes to Democratic candidates. However, that may be changing as in Florida, Republicans DeSantis and Scott got 14% – 15% of the black vote in exit polls.

THE THREAT OF VIOLENCE REMAINS

The split decision in the election means both sides got something to make them happy for now. However, that doesn’t appear to be the end of it. The Democrats and media appear to be willing to play “hardball” (as seen in the Sessions resignation).

A likely flashpoint for civil unrest will be the upcoming fight between Trump and Democrats over investigations and the status of the Department of Justice. The Constitution gives Trump the authority as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, who has the privilege to delegate some of that power to others like the attorney general. However, the Democrats want the DoJ to be totally independent while it is under Trump.

If Trump moves aggressively to appoint his own people to the DoJ and FBI (which he is constitutionally permitted to do), the rhetoric could escalate until some start protesting on the streets.

There are many other issues that could spark civil unrest – US troops stopping illegal immigrants in a heavy-handed manner, congressional investigations, the police killing of a black, a protest turning violent, etc.

With an aggressive Trump and Democrats not willing to back down, anything could happen.

Don’t let a peaceful interlude lull one into thinking all the problems are over.

Source: Center for American and Arab Studies, published originally on Novembr 9, 2018

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